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disappointed, but not shocked

The major news agencies are declaring Lieberman the victor in the Connecticut senate race (track the results here). Lamont delivered his concession speech a short while ago.

I’m not surprised that Ned didn’t pull it off. His campaign had shortcomings that couldn’t be overcome, both during the primary and in the general election. Note that I observed very little of this race in Connecticut, though I have many friends and family in Connecticut who provided some insightful observations to flesh out my own, long-distance views. In short:

  • Lamont ran well with one issue in the primary, and took advantage of activist enthusiasm to propel him to a slim victory. But the primary didn’t really reflect the majority of Connecticut voters, who tend to be a bit more “blurry” in the political spectrum – something that Lieberman and his supporters knew full well.
  • After the primary, the Lamont campaign went dormant, assuming that Lieberman would “come to his senses” and abandon his independent run. A poor assumption, in the end, and Lamont’s team lost valuable ground time.
  • The Lamont team failed to expand the image of Lamont as anything other than a one-trick, anti-war pony in this race, to the great detriment of Lamont’s cause. I chalk this up to the myopia of the blogosphere-driven campaigns (and I say this as a “card carrying member” of said blogosphere): they tended to aim toward the choir, rather than the fence-sitters. In a state like Connecticut, where non-affiliated voters make up a large chunk of the voting populace, you need to appeal on more than just one issue – and the Lamont campaign failed to address this in many, many regards. The majority of the ads in the campaign focused on Iraq, and not on Lamont’s background, his plans for other bellwether issues, and his overall platform for change.
  • Expanding on the previous point: as Alan Schlesinger pointed out, there wasn’t too much overall perceived difference between Lamont and Lieberman. And, to steal a phrase from Howard Dean, if you can vote for a Lieberman or a Lieberman-lite (i.e. Lamont), a voter will go for the original nearly every time. Again, it’s a matter of perception, and the Lamont campaign failed to really differentiate their guy from the incumbent.
  • The TV ad campaign was, as a whole, ineffective. There were some cute moments (the “Ned Lamont can’t sing” ad, the ad with Ned driving a forklift), and there were some more sobering moments (the Lafayette statue ads), but the ads weren’t really effective enough to be convincing to fence-sitters. And the “…and so do we” tag line was fine for the primary and the early general ads, but showed a slightly too casual attitude toward the election. The change to the simple “I’m Ned Lamont and I approve this message” tag was too little, too late.
  • Tom Swan, to my eyes, was a bit out of his depth with the scale of this race. I applaud Swan for driving the primary effort, and he did well. But he’s not a guy who had the complete grasp to overcome the inertia of the centrist voters in Connecticut. Now I’m not ready to slaughter Swan – don’t get me wrong, he did well, just not well enough – but I didn’t sense that he really had any idea of how to get his guy above the 40-percent barrier.
  • The GOTV efforts didn’t quite live up to expectations. In this case, connections were key – and Lieberman had the GOTV organization connections for the general election. And not being hog-tied to the Connecticut Democratic Party machine, he could reach out to the independent and GOP organizers who had always worked for Joe behind the scenes. Joe’s GOTV folks had the right “little black books” to get the key voters to the polls – much like Kerry had the experienced GOTV connections in Iowa in ’04, handing Dean a defeat that defied the expectations and enthusiasm of the netroots.
  • Joe set himself up as the victim – to great effect. Note how Lieberman opened the first televised debate: he said that he was bracing for attacks from Lamont and “would keep track of the number of attacks.” In doing so, he disarmed Lamont for the remainder of the campaign.
  • In the end, Lamont failed to give many Connecticut voters a key thing: a solid reason to vote for him, rather than some decent reasons to vote against Lieberman. In the end, positive campaigning works, and Lieberman tacked more positive as a whole than did Lamont. To lay the blame on any one influence would be daft – the netroots, the inside advisers, the media, the other candidates, and even the candidate, himself – did a good job of portraying Lamont as a negative guy who had a beef with Lieberman but who didn’t really bring anything new to the table.
  • Overall, the voters of Connecticut were willing to cut Lieberman some slack, living up to Joe’s assumption that he could transcend party lines. And face it: to be a successful Democrat in a Connecticut statewide race, you can’t be too far left or right. Joe’s staff knew that, ran with it, and won.

That’s just a basic list, and I may say more in the near future.

But to the folks who worked tirelessly for Lamont, my hat is off to you. Think of this as lessons learned: it’s not the ideal outcome, not what the emotions were saying would be the victory of the night. But the campaign was really a success in many, many ways. I don’t feel that my donations to Lamont, my time helping the campaign here in DC when he came to town, or my enthusiasm for him during his run were for naught; on the contrary, while I’m disappointed at the outcome, I’m really impressed with how far the campaign came.

It was just a little short in the end.

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